If God so loved the world, why do we hate it?

The following is a slightly edited version of a blog post I did in 2011 on the Credo House blog.

globe being smashedIn my earlier Christian years, I was taught to hate the world and to avoid participation in it, especially as it related to culture.  That means it’s products – music, books, movies, etc.   I recall at times being torn because in the early eighties, music video was really taking off and I did like movies.  Well, some movies were ok as long as there was no sex, drugs, violence or bad language (God forbid there would be a curse word!).  The proof-text that was always used was 1 John 2:15 – “Do not love the world nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  That seemed pretty simple.  That meant Christian movies with distinct Christian themes, Christian music, and Christian literature was acceptable. This is sacred and worldly things are secular. And Christians did not participate in worldly things, lest they love the world.

Over the years, I have come to a different understanding of what it means to hate the world and to love the world.  As Christians, we must love the world since God does and seeks to reconcile it to himself.  Yes, for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16).   So why does John say don’t love the world?  I’m no Johnnine scholar but W. Hall Harris III is.  He identifies herethat world in John’s gospel (3:16) refers to humanity and particularly broken humanity, while 1 John references the philosophy and values that are separate from God.  Examining 1 John 2:15 in light of the next verse,  he says

We are dealing with people who operate purely on a human level and have no spiritual dimension to their existence. This is the person who loves the world, whose affections are all centered on the world, who has no love for God or spiritual things… It is not a reference to culture.

Nothing solidified this more than a class I took in seminary with Glenn Kreider on Theological Method with a particular focus on theology and culture and the fact that God not only operates through his word but through His world.  That means that Christians must interact in the world, which means interacting with the world, i.e. culture. Continue reading

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A good way to undermine Christ’s mission

Anger 2I want to leverage the sermon from church this past Sunday to point out some observations I’ve made over the course of my Christian life and a quote from a book that I greatly appreciate.

The sermon, titled Remember Christ’s Mission came from Luke 9:51-56

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went to another village.

A good point that was made about this passage is that Christ’s mission is not to condemn. Now that might raise the hackles on the back of necks especially from those who are quick to point out how much the topic of sin is neglected from the pulpit these days (as if we have a reasonable sample of what all churches are preaching). In fact, I often wonder if this rush to make sure sin is pointed out is to make sure the person knows they can’t get away with anything.  Continue reading

On fear, Islam and a better way

muslims prayingI confess I’ve not studied a lot on Islam. But these days am investing more time to understand for reasons I’ll get to in the post. Islam seems to be gaining more of a presence, not just globally, but locally as well. To be sure, there are growing concerns and quite amount of fear lingering in Christian circles because of the rise of ISIS and other attacks perpetrated under the name of Islam. I’ve observed that this fear has caused strong reactions among Christians against Muslims and the desire to repel them from out midst.

But there is a reality Christians cannot afford to overlook. Islam continues to grow. According to this article, Muslims are projected to be the 2nd largest U.S. religious group behind Christians. The Pew Forum indicates that Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion. By 2050, this religious group will equal that of Christians in size. Now we can advocate for the U.S. to remove all Muslims as I have heard many Christians decry. Yes, I’ve actually heard Christians say this!

Qureshi_Seeking Allah coverConcerns are valid but I question if our fearful reactions aren’t counterproductive to people who are to be salt and light. There is disagreement on whether these extreme groups actually represent authentic Islam. The short answer is yes and no and it depends on who you ask. I’ve been reading through Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity. Nabeel Qureshi recounts his journey from Ahmadi Islam to his conversion to Christ, explaining Islam and distinction among groups along the way. I found this excerpt compelling, from his thoughts about what happened after 9-11;

In the twelve years since that day, I have learned that the question is far more complex than it first appears. The most important consideration is the definition of Islam. If by Islam we mean the beliefs of Muslims, then Islam can be a relition of peace or a religion of terror, depending on how it is taught.

In the West, Muslims are generally taught a very pacific version of Islam. Just like Baji and I, Western Muslims are taught that Muhammad fought only defensive battles and that violent verses in the Quran refer to specific, defensive contexts. Jihad is here defined as primarily a peaceful endeavor, an internal struggle against one’s baser desires. When asked about their religion, Western Muslims honestly report what they believe; Islam is a religion of peace.

In the East, though, Muslims often have a less docile view of Islam. They are taught that Islam is superior to all other religions and ways of life and that Allah wishes to see it established throughout the world. They often define jihad as a primarily physical endeavor, a struggle against the enemies of Islam. When asked about their religion, these Muslims will honestly report what they believe; Islam will dominate the world.

So if we define Islam by the beliefs of its adherents, it may or may not be a religion of peace. But if we define Islam more traditionally, as the system of beliefs and practices taught by Muhammad, then the answer is less ambiguous.

The earliest historical records show that Muhammad launched offensive military campaigns and used violence at times to accomplish his purposes. He used the term jihad in both spiritual and physical contexts, but the physical jihad is the one Muhammad strongly emphasizes. The peaceful practice of Islam hinges on later, often Western, interpretations of Muhammad’s teachings, whereas the more violent variations of Islam are deeply rooted in orthodoxy and history.

Of course, like all people, Muslims in the East and the West generally just believe what they are taught. Rarely is there much critical investigation into historical events, and the few that invest the effort usually do the same thing I had done in TOK class: attempt to defend what is already believed, potentially ignoring or underestimating evidence that points to the contrary. This is only natural, since it is extremely difficult to change beliefs that are dear to the heart.

Continue reading

The Great Commission, Great Commandment, and our Humanity

Super ChristianAfter hearing a sermon on the Great Commission this past Sunday, it reminded me of these quotes from two books I’m reading and reinforced that being a witness does not require us to be super Christians, with big capes like we have it all together. You ever feel like you don’t measure up to be an effective witness for Christ, loving God and neighbor as you should? Well neither did the first disciples. And they were with Jesus!

“Matthew concludes his gospel with the Great Commission. To his worshipping, yet doubting, disciples, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples” (vv. 18-19). The one who has all authority has chosen not to use it himself. The one who has all power has chosen to give it away. The one who has just conquered sin, death, and the grave has turned over the next stage of the kingdom to this group of fearful and doubting followers, who have demonstrated over and over again that they are more concerned about themselves than about Jesus, about their agendas than about the kingdom, about their reputations than about ‘the least of these,’ and about greatness than about servanthood. Yet it is to these men that Jesus gives the responsibility to make disciples. The gospel is entrusted to them. The mission of the church is given to them. The fate of the poor, the needy, and the oppressed is delegated to those followers who, even in the presence of the resurrected Jesus, continue to doubt. And that continues to be God’s plan. It is through the church that the kingdom grows and spreads over the earth.”  – Glenn Kreider, God With Us: Exploring God’s Personal Interactions with His People throughout the Bible. Continue reading

Redemption and the Ultimate Reality

reason for God_kellerI’ve been reading through The Reason for God by Tim Keller as a requirement for my evangelism class. But I must say, I love this book and the reasonable and winsome way the Keller addresses Christianity and the counter-claims to it.  The first half of the book he tackles the common arguments against Christianity as evidenced by the chapters titles. In the chapter entitled Science Has Disproved Christianity, he deals with the rational-oriented arguments against miracles and concludes with an important note;

I don’t want to be too hard on people who struggle with the idea of God’s intervention in the natural order. Miracles are hard to believe in, and they should be. In Matthew 28 we are told that the apostles met the risen Jesus on a mountainside in Galilee. ‘When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted (vs. 17). That is a remarkable admission. Here is the author of an early Christian document telling us that some of the founders of Christianity couldn’t believe the miracle of the resurrection, even when they were looking straight at him with their eyes and touching him with their hands. There is no other reason for this to be in the account unless it happened.

The passage shows us several things. It is a warning not to think that only we modern, scientific people have to struggle with the idea of the miraculous, while ancient, more primitive people did not. The apostles responded like any group of modern people – some believed their eyes and some didn’t. It is also an encouragement to patience. All the apostles ended up as great leaders in the church, but some had a lot more trouble believing than others.

The most instructive thing about this text is, however, what it says about the purpose of the biblical miracles. They lead not simply to cognitive belief, but to worship, to awe and wonder. Jesus’ miracles in particular were never magic tricks, designed only to impress and coerce. You never see him say something like: ‘See that tree over there? Watch me make it burst into flames!’ Instead, he used miraculous power to heal the sick, feed the hungry and raise the dead. Why? We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order. The Bible tells us that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it. Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. Jesus’ miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming. Continue reading